A few years ago, an extern was sent to my firm by the Nigerian Law School to complete the mandatory externship. This is a training programme designed by the law school as part of the candidate’s course of work. Before you are called to the Nigerian Bar (become a lawyer), you must complete the one-year law school training. You also have to pass the bar examinations (well, that’s a no brainer).
Anyway, this extern schooled in the UK and was a qualified solicitor there. She had also practised in one of the top law firms for a few years. When the partners got a copy of her CV, let’s just say that I’ve never seen a CV cause so much excitement. Having practised her craft as a solicitor in the UK, her qualifications and experience were mind boggling. Anyway, she was drafted into the Banking and Finance Practice Group, my core area of practice.
Initially, I was excited as I’d finally seen someone I could brainstorm with. Then a funny thing happened, I was now being asked to run all legal opinions through her. Shocker! First thing that came to my mind was, what?!! Someone who has not been called to the Bar? Reviewing my work? Of course, my reaction was ridiculous. This was someone with experience in this sector, so why the noise?
One positive thing that came out of this was it awakened my competitive spirit. I had been too comfortable with my “superior” position as the go-to associate for Banking and Finance. The coming of this extern made me sit up and read. She was coming with her experience and I was bringing my book knowledge. At the end of the day, we were able to marry the two to resolve issues.
Why all this long story you ask? It’s all about competition. Competition in the workplace. Healthy competition.Competition gives you energy! It keeps you focused on my goals. Click To Tweet
Most employers believe that competition is good as it fuels creativity and willingness to push boundaries. This is why, in most companies, competition is encouraged through various means such as performance-based incentives. Annual performance evaluation is usually conducted to determine who gets what in these companies.
Having said all this, a lot of people don’t know how to handle competition. Once placed in a competitive environment, anxiety becomes the order of the day. Stress levels skyrocket and the unhealthy environment becomes a breeding ground for animosity and rivalries. I heard a story about a law firm where the competition is so high that people go out of their way to sabotage another colleague’s work.
I really don’t have an answer to this question. One thing I would say is, don’t sabotage or set-up your colleague all in the name of competition. People actually lose jobs over this.
I read this article by Dr. Marla Gottschalk on ways to deal with workplace competition, and 3 things stood out for me:
Accepting the fact that there is one form of competition in every sphere of life goes a long way. You can’t wish it away, it’s here to stay. Accept this and make peace with it.
At the end of the day, you all work for a common purpose – to do the work/biddings of your employer. It is better and healthier for you to collaborate. As I mentioned above, the extern and I were able to compare notes (in a manner of speaking), and come up with solutions to issues. Your ability to come up with solutions is really the end game – the key factor to an employer.
It’s funny how a lot of people state in their CVs that they are team players while they are not. You need to collaborate with your peers. I can’t stress this enough.
In the words of Dr. Gottschalk, “We’re not required to be all things to all people (and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so). Instead, find a way to acknowledge your strengths and create your own brand. Find a niche that makes you indispensable – create value and build on this strength.”
What works for Mr. A may not work for Mr. B. There is something unique in you that the other person does not have. Find how to use it to your strength. Carving a niche for yourself makes you indispensable.
I can never forget what the managing associate in my former place of work told me when I was leaving to a new firm. She said, “Onyinye, I really like how you came here a carved a niche for yourself. You came and you were pushed into the IP (intellectual property) department, and you learned it so well that you became indispensable. When you get to this new place, work hard and make yourself indispensable to them“. I’m sure she would have forgotten about all this, but I hold it sacred to my heart. And indeed, it has really helped me in my career.
Competition doesn’t have to evoke feelings of self-doubt and recrimination within you. If you accept it as inevitable, collaborate, and work hard, you should be fine.
Also, when the work environment becomes too toxic, do not be afraid to leave.